Aquatic Center offers free lessons to Snohomish second-graders

SNOHOMISH — A new program aimed at teaching every child to swim is under way at the Snohomish Aquatic Center.

Second-graders in the Snohomish School District can sign up for free swim lessons in 2016.

The nonprofit Swim for Life is offering students the classes at no cost almost two years after the gleaming aquatic center opened its doors. Volunteers Bill Fulton and Bruce Richards, who were instrumental in bringing the 52,000-square-foot swimming complex to Snohomish, now serve on the nonprofit’s board.

“There’s far too much water around this community for kids not to know how to swim,” said Richards, a former swim coach.

Drowning is a leading cause of injury and death among children in Washington, according to the Snohomish School District. Spokeswoman Kristin Foley said offering free swim lessons is a way to reduce that risk.

“The focus is on waterproofing kids,” Fulton explained.

Swim for Life received an anonymous $50,000 donation to cover the cost of lessons for about 670 Snohomish second-graders in 2016. The nonprofit will need to raise at least $45,000 a year to continue the program beyond this year.

Second grade is an ideal time to begin lessons because students are able to go in the pool without a parent, starting at around age 7, said Chris Bensen, the aquatic center’s manager.

“We want every child to learn how to swim,” she said. “It’s a life skill.”

The first free session begins Jan. 4. There are five no-cost sessions scheduled during the school year with the last one starting May 16. Parents can register students for a 2016 session at the aquatic center, 516 Maple Ave.

Lessons are usually offered once or twice a week, for four or five weeks. Students taking part in the free lessons will be blended into regular classes at the aquatic center.

Swim for Life plans to add two board members in January. The nonprofit will focus on raising money to ensure other students who cannot afford lessons learn to swim.

Richards and the others said they’re inspired to continue the work by the story of Hana Nayeli, 5. Her mother, Nikki Midyette, won her daughter’s first lesson by entering a drawing but couldn’t afford to continue.

Raising two children on her own left her with little money, Midyette said. So Richards offered to pick up the tab for Hana’s lessons.

Beyond learning skills in the water, Midyette said, the lessons have taught her daughter self-discipline, improved her attention span and showed her that people care.

“It was a dream come true,” Midyette wrote in an email. “Instantly, she had something exciting, healthy and stable to look forward to. And the positive effect it had on her, on all of us, was a huge turning point for our family.”

Hana is now looking forward to learning to dive and joining the swim team.

“She’s just one example we happened to run across,” Richards said. “There’s probably hundreds of Hanas in the community.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

To help

Donations for Swim for Life can be dropped off at the aquatic center or mailed to 516 Maple Ave., Snohomish, WA 98290.

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